We humans have been domesticating animals for the past 12,000 years and they have played a crucial role in the rise of our civilization and in the formation of our varied cultures. We have used and abused animals for food, clothing, transportation, muscle power, laboratory experimentation, pollination, recreation and companionship.
Dogs were the first animals to be domesticated, used by clans of the Middle East for protection and hunting assistance some 12,000 years ago. Goats were domesticated in the Fertile Crescent about 10,000 years ago while sheep and pigs were raised in Turkey and Syria by 9000 years ago. About 8000 years ago, cattle were domesticated in Northern Africa and India, cats joined the households of Egypt and chickens were bred for eggs and meat in Southeast Asia. As the horse was domesticated by tribes of central Asia, some 6000 years ago, the Incas were utilizing llamas in the Andes of South America and donkeys were brought under human rule in Northern Africa, soon to be joined by camel caravans. Ducks were raised in Southeast Asia by 5000 years ago, guinea pigs were domesticated in the Andes 4500 years ago and elephants were pressed into service in India about 4000 years ago. Caribou were domesticated across the Arctic about 3000 years ago, turkeys were raised in Mexico 2000 years ago, honey bees were brought under control in Europe 1500 years ago, goldfish were farmed in China 1000 years ago and rabbits were domesticated in Europe by 500 years ago.
Looking at our pampered dogs and cats, better fed than many human populations, we sometimes glorify our relationship with the other animals that share this planet. Yet, as vital as many have been to the survival of our species, we have not often treated them with the dignity that they deserve. The abuse of animals on industrialized farms and in scientific labs has been a blight on our culture and must be addressed if we are to earn our self-proclaimed title of Earth's stewards.